Antivirus software comparison: how to protect your computer

Compare antivirus software to find the best program to protect your device.

Antivirus software scans your device for threats and removes any viruses and malware it finds.

The number of internet-connected devices per household is growing, and without sufficient protection, our devices and private data are more vulnerable than ever.

The price of antivirus software ranges from free to hundreds of US dollars per year. Subscriptions are typically for one year and may automatically renew at the end of the subscription period. Look for vendors offering free trials so you can make sure you’re getting everything you need before you sign up.

What is antivirus software?

Antivirus software is a program created to prevent, find, block and remove viruses, malware and malicious software. While antivirus software was originally developed to protect against computer viruses, the technology has grown to guard against other threats including malware, identity theft, online banking theft, spam and phishing attacks.

Most antivirus software programs perform the following three functions:

  • Scan for threats
    Antivirus software scans for malicious patterns and infectious material. You can choose to have the software scan specific files and directories or the whole computer. You can also choose to schedule the scans, allow them to run automatically or have a combination of both.
  • Remove malicious programs and infections
    After scanning for threats, your antivirus software will remove anything malicious that it detects. You can adjust your software settings so that the program will notify you anytime it detects an infection. This will let you decide if you want to give the program permission to remove it. Otherwise, your antivirus software will remove threats automatically. Antivirus software can also show you the overall “wellness” of your computer based on how many threats it regularly detects.
  • Update regularly
    A key feature of top-notch antivirus software is staying up-to-date. New threats are constantly developing and evolving. It’s crucial that your software keeps on top of new advancements to best protect your device. Without up-to-date software, your computer could easily become infected.

What is the difference between antivirus and anti-malware?

Traditionally, antivirus software protects computers against viruses, which are a type of malware designed to replicate itself.

Anti-malware software was designed to protect against malware, including viruses, spyware, Trojans and worms.

However, the terms have become blurred over time and most modern antivirus software protects against many kinds of malware. Some vendors use the terms interchangeably so make sure to find out exactly what your software is protecting you against before you sign up.

Why should I consider antivirus software?

Antivirus software can provide the following services:

  • Malware protection. The main function of antivirus software is to protect your devices against viruses, spyware, malware, phishing attacks and cyber threats. Without antivirus software, your data is vulnerable to numerous threats.
  • Password protection. Some software will help prevent hackers or identity thieves from stealing your passwords.
  • Parental controls. You can use antivirus software to monitor your children’s computer activity.
  • Ad blocking. Most antivirus software can block ads, pop-ups and spam websites that are trying to steal information.
  • Two-way firewall. Modern antivirus software will provide two-way firewall security. This means your software is checking for both incoming and outgoing suspicious activity.

Disadvantages of antivirus software

  • False alarms. Antivirus software can sometimes wrongfully identify non-malicious files as infected. This can cause problems, especially if the software automatically removes the perceived threat. One way to help prevent this is to set your software to ask permission when deleting files. Occasionally, a false positive can render entire applications or systems unusable, and you will need to remove and reinstall them. Make sure to back up all important files.
  • Slowed computer performance. Running several antivirus programs at the same time will slow the performance of your computer. Modern antivirus software is getting better at running without impacting computer performance, but some software can interrupt and delay certain programs and system updates.
  • Ineffectiveness. Antivirus software isn’t perfect. No software can detect 100% of threats, as new viruses and malware are constantly being created. If you store a lot of sensitive information, you might want to consider buying antivirus software from more than one vendor to provide multiple layers of protection.
  • Attacks. Antivirus software can also be vulnerable to attacks. Your antivirus software usually has access to your entire computer, which can lead to devastating consequences if the software is hacked. Make sure to purchase software from a reputable vendor that updates security regularly. You should also read user reviews of any software you are considering.

What to look for when choosing antivirus software

There are a few important things to consider when buying antivirus software. First, look for software with great user reviews. Next, consider vendors who offer the following:

  • A malware-detection rate of 95% or more
  • A low rate of false positives
  • Email and web protection
  • A free trial period
  • Any additional features you need

You also want to choose something that is easy and relatively intuitive to use. To get the most out of your software, you need to be able to adjust the settings to meet your specific needs.

Always avoid pop-up antivirus software ads that promise free scans and 100% detection rates. These are almost always scams or viruses.

Can I get antivirus software for free?

3 key things to consider
  • Pay for what you need. While premium antivirus software with extra features might be enticing, it’s only worth purchasing if you really need the additional protection. On the other hand, if you need a high level of security, don’t settle for free software. Carefully consider what you need and adjust your budget accordingly.
  • Increased renewal costs. There is no guarantee that the price of your antivirus software won’t increase the next time you need to renew it. Some vendors even require advance notice of 30 to 60 days if you plan to unsubscribe before your renewal date. Make sure to read all terms and conditions of your software when signing up and budget for future renewals.
  • File damage. If a computer file gets infected, you will not always be able to fully restore the data. Remember to back up all important information to prevent data loss.

Bottom line

Whether you need more security for your personal computer or an entire computer network, antivirus software can help. While antivirus software can’t protect you against 100% of malware, it is a crucial part of any computer security system.

If your data requires high levels of safeguarding, consider layering multiple software systems for added insurance. If you’re interested in protecting your computer, start browsing antivirus software today.

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